Ealing pop-in for a quick arm wrestle
August 25 2017
A balmy summers evening at Hazelwood saw Irish's second pre-season warm-up against Ealing Trailfinders. Some less-northern attendees disagree with the "balmy" part of that statement and I will admit there was, as there often is, a cooling breeze coming across the pitch towards the club house but it was far from the "freezing" a lot of people seemed to espouse.
But enough of the weather, the thousand-strong support (not a terrible turn-out for a Friday) were well served a feast of rugby. The big news was the late addition of "trialist" Franco van der Merwe to the squad. Having been in the official Irish photo-shoot the announcement of Franco's signature is but a paperwork snafu away, but at least we'd get to see what the new lad could bring.
We knew from our year in the Championship that Ealing were a handy side who could put together a very effective attack and the visitors showed they were well-capable of testing Mr Danaher's defensive patterns. I thought the Ealing inside-centre in particular made himself a real nuisance with ball in-hand. Despite this pressure, though, Irish managed to hold-out and when we got the ball it was pleasing to see that, unlike much of last season, our backs can actually make a good fist of an attack too.
The constant pressure earned the visitors a penalty just inside the Irish half that they eagerly converted into points for an early lead. It was going to be a real contest.
Despite the backs resurgence it was a forward that scored first for Irish with Ofisa Treviranus boshing his way through the Ealing defence on the right wing from a lineout. This was a signature of the night Irish dominating the lineouts and on their own ball pretty much having it their own way. It was wide - I guess we were testing Tommy Bell's conversion skills. He was up to the task and Irish led 7 - 3.
The backs joined the party shortly afterwards with a brisk move through almost all the fast-boys' hands ending-up with Ciaran Hearn taking the honours this time on the left. Another tester for Bell was too much and the score went to 12 -3.
The rest of the first half was a bit of an arm-wrestle, Irish rarely got the ball but when they did they made good ground before coughing-up the pill for Ealing to work incredibly hard for any yards they could. The home defence held well - I was pleased to see the line-speed improvements we saw last season remaining - and Ealing were held mostly static.
Irish finally gave away a kickable penalty again taken as points by the visitors and the half ended 12 - 6. The penalty was (we think) for Mike Coman failing to release the tackle inside the Irish 22. It was deemed cynical and Coman left the field for a 10 minute sit-down as did his opposite number (again we think) for stamping on Coman for his efforts. That was our best guess since sir was difficult to follow at times.
The second half saw the arrival of a batch of fresh legs including our first look at The Trialist. Within the first three Ealing lineouts van der Merwe had stolen the ball in all three - he'll do.
The arm-wrestle continued although Irish seemed able to hold onto the ball a bit more. Forward pressure gave Ben Meehan a chance to snipe a sneaky try in which Bell converted. Meehan looks good at 9, although when he was replaced by McKibbin it was pleasing to see that the good-stuff continued. Marshall seems to work well with both of them and with Tommy Bell doing the kicking duties we seem to have a good framework to build on.
Another (of many) replacement was to get to see Napolioni Nalaga on the wing. NN is a Big Lad (TM) but he gets about a bit and made a good impact. With Big Joe and him as options we have a good variety of wings. Nalaga scored the final try of the night starting the move with a bit of good old-fashioned bosh and then turning-up at the end of the move on the wing. Again Bell converted and the match ended 29 - 6.
Ealing gave good account of themselves but simply weren't allowed to play. If Irish can do that to the mid to lower teams in the up-coming Premiership then maybe we can put the relegation-favourtite tag to bed.
Pretty much all the Irish sqaud were good - I particularly liked the look of Lasha Lomidze at 8, a different sort of player to Trev which might work in some situations. My only slight worry is the defensive abilities of our centres. At times it was just a bit porous but I'm sure Declan and then chaps will have a plan to sort that out.
All-in-all a really pleasant evening, Hazelwood is a genuinely lovely place to watch rugby and there is a real feel-good factor coming from the squad that was definitely missing in our relegation year. Keep it going you Irish!